The Quad-City Mallards team that takes the ice for Friday's Central Hockey League playoff opener in Loveland, Colo., won't be the same team that left the rink Saturday night in Dayton, Ohio, on the heels of disheartening back-to-back losses that dropped them to seventh in the Turner Conference seeding order.
Coach Frank Anzalone learned Sunday that goaltender David Brown, the league-leader with a .930 saves percentage, will be on the bus when the Mallards leave later this week for 8 p.m. games Friday and Saturday vs. the Colorado Eagles. Brown returned to the team Sunday after a 10-day stint with the American Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins.
Also sure to be back in the Q-C lineup is second-year forward Eric Giosa, who was the team's top scorer when he was lost to a hand injury a month ago and still tops the team with 26 goals and rates third with 48 points.
That good news, though, failed to lighten the mood of Anzalone, whose club's long ride home after a 6-2 loss in Ohio was made longer by radiator issues on their sleeper bus that left them stranded in Indianapolis for 21/2 hours. The Mallards pulled into the i wireless Center parking lot at 8 a.m.
By 2 p.m., a weary Anzalone still hadn't found a way to turn his focus to a Colorado crew that finished tied for the Turner Conference lead at 40-22-4, but whose own Saturday loss at Fort Wayne dropped them into the No. 2 seed behind Rapid City due to a tie-breaker.
Anzalone's first order of business as the Mallards tune into the postseason?
"Get Dayton out of my mind," he said.
The Mallards (34-31-1) really can't afford to think about anybody other than the Eagles, who they will face back-to-back in what is sure to be a frenzied environment. The Eagles have played in front of sell-out crowds of 5,789 for a minor-league record 145 games and counting at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, a city of nearly 60,000 located 45 miles north of Denver.
Sunday, Anzalone didn't take much pleasure or place much stock in a 2-1 Mallards edge in the season series with the Eagles. All three games, he noted, were played at the iwC. Notably, however, Colorado finished the season with matching 20-11-2 records both at home and on the road.
Anzalone also wouldn't bite when asked to discuss how the squads match up. The Eagles finished second in the CHL with a 3.78 scoring average while the Mallards finished with a 2.75 goals-against average, thanks to the 1-and-1A goaltending punch of Brown and Adam Russo.
On the other side, Kyle Jones, who struggled to a 12-16-6 record with the Mallards last year, led the league with 29 wins in net for the Eagles (he was 29-10-7 overall). He finished seventh with a 2.62 goals against.
The Eagles also feature a pair of 90-plus-point scorers in former Rockford IceHog Kevin Ulanski (35 goals and 61 assists) and MVP candidate Rily Nelson (34 and 59).
"They are a good team," Anzalone said. "We will prepare this week, regain our composure and we'll be ready to go."
Anzalone will have until noon today to decide his 19-skater, two-goalie playoff roster. He indicated the key question will be the readiness of veteran defenseman Tyler Kindle's shoulder, although Kindle, who has been skating for two weeks, said last week he would be ready to go after a month on the sidelines.
"I can't fit everybody in," Anzalone said. "I have a big decision coming up."
He also said he has no immediate plans to add a pair of collegiate rookies to the roster, an option the CHL provides.
Key early-week concerns will be the readiness of Brown, who played only 40 minutes in his 10 days with Grand Rapids, and Giosa, who skated with the team last week.
"That's a tough one to say," Anzalone said of Giosa's potential impact for a Q-C crew that limped home with a 6-9-0 record after he was injured Feb. 19. "He's been out for a while, and game shape is very different. But Eric Giosa has been working very hard."
The Mallards will host Game 3 on Tuesday, April 5, at 7 p.m at the i wireless Center. If a Game 4 is necessary, Q-C will host the Eagles on April 6 at 7 p.m.
Game 5 is scheduled for April 9 at 8 p.m. in Loveland.
Mallards first-round playoff tickets will be available beginning Tuesday at 10 a.m. Tickets can be purchased at the i wireless Center box office, at Ticketmaster outlets and at ticketmaster.com.